My favorite way to really immerse myself in the outdoors is to go camping. These days, I camp with the family, usually at a developed or primitive drive-in campground. Back in the day I’d hike to my camp with no more gear than I could stuff into a backpack. But I have grown to love car camping. Those long days outdoors are so calming, and can be made very comfortable with little expense. Unfortunately, with summer winding down and the kids heading back to school, we may have only a few camping trips left.
We’ve gotten in a good 10-12 nights out though this year. This past weekend we visited another beautiful spot, pictured below, and spent the night freezing in temperatures that reached into the 30’s. When the kids are truly uncomfortable due to the temperatures, we know the camping season is about at an end.
Camping can be made very simple, and here’s a few recommendations I’d offer based on my experience getting my family to love camping.
First, make it easy. Go someplace relatively close to home, and go just for a night to start. When we first got our children camping, we wouldn’t even leave the house until 10 or 11 a.m. on Saturday. We’d spend the afternoon and one night at the campground, and then come home Sunday morning so we still had the whole day ahead of us. Don’t make your first trip a marathon. Make it an extended day outdoors.
Second, take the pressure off yourself and family and make reservations. A lot of campgrounds take reservations, and then you can arrive on site at your own schedule.
Third, go when the temperatures are comfortable. No one wants to sweat all day and freeze all night. We started our kids camping in late spring, when the days are as comfortable as the nights, and the kids could sleep on the tent floor with just heavy blankets and pillows. You don’t need to spend money on sleeping bags right away – grow into that need.
Fourth, eat easy foods. If your family likes hotdogs, you have it made. But it’s also very easy to cook meals like quesadillas, chicken, rice, potatoes, corn; nearly everything you can prepare on a grill can be cooked over an open fire.
Fifth, bathrooms, bathrooms, bathrooms. For their very first trip, don’t take your loved ones to a campground with a pit toilet. Many state parks and forest service campgrounds have nice facilities, with flush toilets and running water. I really recommend easing the kids – or non-camping significant other – into camping by taking them someplace where they can have as normal a routine as possible, and being able to wash up and brush your teeth in a sink before bedtime is one of those little secrets that make for an easy transition.
I’ll also tell you that these nicer campgrounds, with reservations and running water and a campground host, generally make for a more peaceful environment: you’re not likely to encounter a group of late-night partiers at these type of campgrounds.
Finally, be flexible, especially with kids. Don’t plan their day with long hikes or campfire talks or whatever. Let them run around and discover with you what they like to do in the outdoors. Bring a Frisbee and coloring books and games to play so that the campground does not feel too different than your own backyard. Make sure camping feels like a free weekend day and not a chore.
You’ll soon grow into camping in more remote and primitive settings, and you’ll be hiking and catching dinner from the lake. But you and your family need time to grow into those things, just like your budget needs time to stretch into those expensive sleeping bags and cook stoves that can extend your camping trips into the spring and fall shoulder seasons.
These are some really simple suggestions that I hope will help those of you who want to start camping, or want to get your family involved in camping. Of all the things we do together as a family – movies, concerts, school and scouting events, family BBQs – nothing beats a camping trip for spending time together.